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Speech: Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation – the role of Innovation

European Commission - SPEECH/14/361   06/05/2014

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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Máire GEOGHEGAN-QUINN

European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation – the role of Innovation

IPCC - Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation: Key messages from IPCC's 5th Assessment Report and Implications for policy and decision making

Brussels, 6 May 2014

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to open this important event, organised by the European Commission's Directorate General for Research and Innovation.

We are here today to discuss the key findings of the IPCC's 5th Assessment Report on climate change adaptation and mitigation and examine the implications for action we must take in Europe and beyond.

I would like to congratulate the IPCC and the hundreds of scientists involved in drafting their latest reports.

Numerous European research projects have provided essential input to this extraordinary scientific endeavour and many leading scientists from all over Europe have been instrumental in compiling these reports. I am very proud of our contribution.

I know that there has been a major effort involved in getting agreement between scientists and government representatives on how to translate these reports into summaries for policy makers.

But the investment of time and work has certainly paid off.

Indeed, the IPCC is an international benchmark on how to organise the science-policy interface on our biggest global challenges.

And we have the privilege today of hearing directly from the lead authors of the reports, so quickly after their latest marathon meetings in Yokohama and Berlin.

The science now makes it impossible to beat around the bush.

It is clear that climate change is happening and that human activity is the dominant cause.

Unless urgent global action is taken to reverse current emission trends, average global temperature by the end of this century will rise significantly above two degrees Celsius.

Such a level of warming will have a severe impact on our well-being. It will irreversibly damage our ecosystems and drag down economic growth.

The longer we delay action, the more difficult and costly it will be to sustain current levels of well-being and prosperity.

The scientific and policy question is no longer: Is climate change happening?

The real, urgent question we must ask is: What do we do about it?

Because the IPCC's message is clear: climate change does not mean that we have to be fatalistic about the effects on our planet, on human life, on our economy and society.

There is a lot that we can do.

Yes, climate change is the defining challenge for humanity in the 21st century.

But we can and should transform this defining challenge into opportunities to innovate. That is how we will make a real impact and guarantee a sustainable future.

Scientists have provided the information. The rest of society – governments, policy makers, business and the general public – need to take that information and act!

The European Commission has recently proposed new energy and climate change targets for 2030 and we are keen to underpin the EU's climate objectives with a sound and effective research and innovation policy.

For this, I believe that we need to develop more systemic approaches.

We need to progress in our focus on the economics of climate change and on assessing the risks, multiple benefits and opportunities of climate action.

We need to understand possible barriers – social or otherwise – and how we can introduce socio-economic incentives.

The innovation we need will have to come not just from technological progress. It will also need to come from new business models, new ways of mobilising finance, forms of governance and – especially – from social innovation.

This calls for a multidisciplinary research agenda, with the natural and social scientists working together, as well as a multi-disciplinary innovation agenda, where stakeholders and society at large co-define priorities and jointly deliver the results.

All this will also put us in a better position to realise the multiple spin-offs resulting from well-designed mitigation and adaptation actions that go beyond climate change.

I'm thinking here, for example, in terms of air quality, human health and well-being, energy security, ecosystem services, and competiveness.

Of course, we have been going down this path for some years, but with Horizon 2020, our new funding programme for research and innovation, I believe that we have the tools to go even further.

Climate action is a central driver of Horizon 2020. It cuts across many areas of research and innovation and we have committed to allocate no less than 35% of Horizon 2020's 80 billion euro budget to climate-related objectives.

The programme brings European level funding for research and innovation under one roof, providing support from laboratory to market, at every step along the innovation chain.

In other words, it is designed to promote the kind of systemic approaches that we need.

Take energy, for example, one of the key issues coming out of the IPCC's reports.

Some scientists argue that wind, water and solar power can be scaled up to cost-effectively meet the world's energy demands. Others argue, however, that this is not as easy as one may think.

In any case, it would seem to me that we need to put the combined abilities of the relevant scientists to work to determine what it takes to move towards a very high level of renewables in the world's energy system in a relatively short timeframe.

This work would need to include technologies, their performances, their lifetimes; and requirements in terms of the grid, land-use, resources and industrial capacity.

But we would also need to consider economic models and the investment required and think in depth about social acceptance, the role of regulation, and of course, environmental and climate impacts.

Horizon 2020 is designed to produce research and innovation across all of these issues, with the aim of giving Europe clean, low-carbon energy sources that are both commercially attractive and on the scale needed.

Partnership with Member States through the Strategic Energy Technology plan – also known as the SET plan - is one of the flagship actions.

The SET Plan is now evolving into a much more multi-disciplinary agenda, moving beyond a technology plan to a fully-fledged transformation and innovation plan for energy systems.

The SET Plan, together with other initiatives like the European Green Vehicles or the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Initiative, will aim to increase the performance of renewable energy technologies and reduce their costs.

These initiatives will also help modernise the European electricity grid to accommodate the growing share of renewable energy, and decarbonise transport, the power sector and carbon-intensive industry through the use of carbon dioxide capture, utilisation and storage technologies, or 'CCS'.

Energy is of course only one of the issues we need to address.

My services are also looking at the possible benefits of a more strategic approach to climate services in Horizon 2020.

Previous European research programmes have helped establish a very strong knowledge base.

While we want to expand this knowledge base, we also want to derive greater economic and societal value from it.

This means translating it into climate services which can help governments, policy-makers, business and society at large to make the smartest possible choices to cope with climate change, while at the same time turning challenges into opportunities.

Europe is well placed to be world leader in the provision of these services.

We wish to help create an information market that delivers customised products, such as forecasts, projections, trends, economic analysis, assessments and best practice.

The aim is to provide innovative solutions and promote actions that will make different sectors 'climate smart', whether farmers, insurance companies, urban planners or forest fire fighters, to name just a few.

Both adaptation and mitigation will be at the heart of the initiative.

Once more, it would be important to involve end-users in the research and innovation agenda at an early stage.

It calls, again, for a systemic approach with the active engagement of research, innovation, finance, the public sector, businesses and society at large.

And in doing so, we will adopt a resolutely international perspective.

Because climate change is, of course, a planet-wide challenge, one that no single country or region can hope to tackle alone.

International cooperation has always been crucial.

And it's in this perspective that Horizon 2020 can also make a difference.

It is not just the world's biggest public research and innovation programme, it's also the most open to the rest of the world.

We want to work together with our international partners on key issues, such as future climate projections, observations, economics, risk assessment, and technological development.

So, I urge researchers and countries from all over the world to participate in Horizon 2020, and I call on European researchers and innovators to seek them out as partners.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today's discussion on the IPCC's report on the risks that climate change poses to our societies and economies, and our options to respond, will provide us all with plenty of food for thought and discussion.

I also hope that it provides the spur to action.

Let me assure you that Horizon 2020 is there to help.

The climate challenge is the un-intended by-product of our economic development and prosperity.

It's now up to us to innovate ourselves out of this global challenge and sustain and share our prosperity at the same time.

That is the immense task ahead of us.

None of us will be immune to the effects of climate change.

None of us can shirk the responsibility to search for answers.

So, I call on all of you – researchers, innovators, policy-makers and citizens – to maintain the effort to deal with the defining challenge of our times.

Now let the work begin! Thank you.


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